If you were looking for someone to take on Mercedes AMG Petronas in order to avoid making the 2015 season another exercise in utter domination, Ferrari have opened their bank account at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel has given the Scuderia their first win in nearly two years beating Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to the top step of the podium. The race was dry and hot and that is very likely the key to Ferrari’s victory.
There is no question that Ferrari’s pace has improved over the winter and we saw that in testing as well as the first grand prix in Australia but what seemed to make a big difference in Sunday’s race was the extreme heat and the ability of the Ferrari chassis to be gentle on its tires.
The win has many Formula 1 fans crunching numbers and attempting to discern the reasons but perhaps a simplification of the situation might be that while Mercedes has a clear engine advantage as well as a great chassis, Ferrari were able to tweak their chassis and use minimal tire degradation to overcome the said 50bhp advantage the German team has. Ferrari were simply much better on their option tires than Mercedes were.
The Sepang circuit, which has just renewed their contract with Formula 1 through 2018, is a purpose built circuit unlike the Albert Park track in Australia and it was in the crucible of heat and an actual race track layout that Ferrari were victorious. Not all races will be this hot or have this particular layout so like Red Bull’s occasional wins in 2014, we’ll have to see if Ferrari can keep this pace throughout the year.
Ferrari and Sebastian are a big win this weekend by making a two-stop strategy work and they seem to have created a chassis that is gentle on its tires in high heat situations. More so than their rivals but ultimately it may have simply been a case of the two-stopper and tire ease that saw their first win since Spain in 2013.
Making his long middle stint work and undercutting Rosberg to come out of the pits ahead of his fellow German driver was a key moment and the team called the strategy impeccably.
Another arguable win was the drive of Kimi Raikkonen who suffered a puncture on the first lap just after pit entry losing massive time on the field only to reverse course and drive to a solid fourth place finish albeit 53 seconds behind the top three.
A big win for Max Verstappen who is now the youngest driver to score points in F1 and his terrific pass on teammate Carlos Sainz but you cannot be too critical of the Spaniard as he started 17th and finished eighth just behind his Dutch teammate. Both Toro Rosso’s finishing ahead of the main team or Red Bull.
Win for Valtteri Bottas for nipping 5th away from his veteran teammate, Felipe Massa, on the final lap and giving both Williams a big points haul.
Ultimately you would have to suggest that this weekend, while a dual-podium finish, is a fail for Mercedes with the inability to make a three-stop strategy work for either car. Lewis was critical of his team on the radio for placing the hard or prime compound on his car for his final stint. Lewis congratulated Ferrari’s win and took the high road on the issue but clearly the team left a lot on the table with their strategy and perhaps their inability to make their tires work as well as Ferrari in the 140 degree track heat.
Sergio Perez garnered the attention of the race stewards when his Force India clouted the Lotus of Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman was making a move on the Mexican driver. A 10-second penalty was assessed for his role in the clash.
Manor’s Will Stevens failed to make the grid with a fuel system problem that could not be resolved prior to the start of the race. It’s a sour result for a sour beginning of the season for the team but they did manage to bring Roberto Merhi home in last place and three laps down on the leaders.
There is every chance that Red Bull Racing are asking themselves WTH? The team struggled with brake issues for most of the race and was beat by their junior team, Toro Rosso, as well as lapped by the leaders. The only interesting part of their story was that Daniel Ricciardo’s teammate, Daniil Kvyat, made life very difficult for the Australian and was all over him like a cheap suit for most of the race.
McLaren failed to get both cars home and the last time the team had a dual DNF was the US Grand Prix in 2006. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but the team know their challenge and the drivers do too. It will now take time (perhaps years) to get to the very top of the sport but they are not a team to be underestimated.
Malaysian Gran Prix Results:
|7||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso/Renault||1m39.085s|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso/Renault||1 Lap|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull/Renault||1 Lap|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||1 Lap|
|11||Romain Grosjean||Lotus/Mercedes||1 Lap|
|12||Felipe Nasr||Sauber/Ferrari||1 Lap|
|13||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||1 Lap|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India/Mercedes||1 Lap|
|15||Roberto Merhi||Marussia/Ferrari||3 Laps|